What is the Best Oil for Frying Donuts?

oil for frying donuts

With donuts, the ingredients used for the dough tend to get the most attention. But there is another part of the process and a key ingredient you might not consider–what oil are you using to fry them in? There are a lot of different options when choosing an oil for frying donuts. The type of oil you use will have an impact on the flavor of the donut, the texture of the exterior, the way the donut feels on your fingers, and how it feels in your mouth. Yeah, there’s a lot at stake! So what makes for the best donut frying oil? Here’s what we found out: 

1. Flavor

The dough of your donut is going to be immersed in oil. That means the flavor of the oil, or lack of it, is one criterion for success. You want a neutral oil that doesn’t interfere too much with the taste of the donut. And luckily, this is something very easy to test. Just pour a small amount onto a spoon and taste it. What’s it like? The best answer is “nothing at all.” Olive oil has a very strong taste, whereas canola oil and vegetable oil are less intense. 

2. Smoke Point

Another important aspect to consider is the smoke point of the oil. This is the temperature an oil reaches when it is vulnerable to start smoking, or even catching fire. For deep frying, you want an oil with a high smoke point. And for donuts, you usually need a temperature between 350-365℉. So the smoke point of your oil needs to be a comfortable margin higher than that. 

3. Coloring

The color of your oil can also affect the color of your donuts. You mostly want donuts to be a light, golden color, and you will want the same from your oil. Some unrefined oils can be much darker, and can produce darker coloring on the donuts. 

4. Cost

You will need a few cups of oil for frying donuts. And choosing a rare and expensive brand could cost a fortune. To keep things sensible, you probably want to find a cost-effective option that has a plentiful supply. Some of the most common oils used for frying donuts include canola oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, 

oil for frying donuts

You want a donut that is crisp without being greasy. You want a donut that tastes like a donut, and not like the oil or the last thing that was fried in the oil. So now that we know what we are looking for, what are some of the types of frying oils that check all the boxes? In the Gygi Test Kitchen, we thought it was time for another experiment. We decided to try out canola oil, coconut oil, and liquid shortening for frying donuts. 

coconut oil donut

Coconut Oil

Compared to the others, the coconut oil has a lower smoke point at 350℉. It took longer for this oil to heat up, and it was trickier to maintain the right temperature without going over. We did overcook a couple of donuts because the oil got too hot. And it does leave a little coconut flavor on the donut, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We kinda liked it! But coconut oil can be relatively expensive and isn’t always the best choice for donut-making. 

shortening donut

Liquid Shortening

We didn’t know exactly what to expect from the liquid shortening, but wanted to give it a try. It has a much higher smoke point and a lighter color. It took about the same time as the canola oil to reach temperature and kept that temperature well–though with all the oils we had to pay close attention and adjust the burners up and down. The donuts came out with a beautiful, lighter golden color. But the thing that was most interesting about this oil was the flavor. There was none! We had to eat this donut and the canola oil donut side by side to be sure. This had no oil flavor at all! 

canola oil donut

Canola Oil

This is made from seeds of the canola plant and it has so many good characteristics. The flavor is almost non-existent, so it will not interfere with the flavor of the donut. The smoke point is about 400℉. It got up to temperature quickly and maintained the temperature fairly well. The donuts from this oil had that traditional donut flavor and the perfect golden texture. 

oil for donut frying
Coconut OilLiquid ShorteningCanola Oil
Smoke Point350℉450℉400-450℉
ColorClearPale yellowPale yellow
Fry UpDarkestLightestMedium
FlavorSlight coconut flavorNo oil flavorSlight oil flavor

It surprised us to find out that all of these oils cost less than $4 for the amount we used–and were relatively on par with one another. Coconut oil was the most expensive. Liquid shortening and canola oil were the more affordable options. But really, you could easily use any of these oils with great success. The most important thing to remember when cooking with oil is to make sure you use the same oil for the same types of foods. This is because oil absorbs the aromas and flavors of what you cook in it. And honestly, the last thing you want is a donut that tastes like fried fish. You also want to have a good thermometer so you can keep a close eye on that temperature and adjust the heat accordingly.

homemade donuts

There are a lot of different cooking oils out there. The understanding of how oils behave at higher temperatures is still evolving and they all have unique advantages and disadvantages. But overall, our top oil for frying donuts was canola oil. It gave off the most traditional flavor, the best fry, and the best texture. If you are looking for a classic donut, this is your winner. But if you want to level up your skills and add a little something extra to your homemade donuts, you should definitely give the coconut oil a try. 

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  • Reply
    March 24, 2024 at 7:08 pm

    Why does my canola oil smell fishy when heated for frying?

    • Reply
      April 3, 2024 at 1:49 pm

      Oh no! Not sure. It could be the brand or the production process. There is also some research about it being a genetic disposition (like with cilantro or basil tasting soapy to some people). It looks like certain individuals are genetically disposed to pick out the fishy/soapy smell of canola oil while others aren’t. Maybe try a different brand, and if you can still smell it, you could give a different oil a try like sunflower or coconut oil.

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